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Artists Chaim Soutine
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Chaim Soutine

Russian-French Painter

Movement: Expressionism

Born: January 13, 1893 - Smilavichy, Russian Empire

Died: August 9, 1943 - Paris, France

Chaim Soutine Timeline

Quotes

"My paintings are a heap of shit, but better than Modigliani, Marc Chagall, and Krémènge. Some day I will destroy my canvases but [I am] too cowardly to do it."
Chaim Soutine
"I never touched Cubism myself, you know, although I was attracted by it one time. When I was painting at Ceret and at Cagnes I yielded to its influence in spite of myself, and the results were not entirely banal."
Chaim Soutine
"You have no right to interfere with my art. Your wife is not your property. I need her, in order to finish my picture, I must have her!"
Chaim Soutine
"I want to show Paris in the carcass of an ox."
Chaim Soutine

"Once I saw the village butcher slice the neck of a bird and drain the blood out of it. I wanted to cry out, but his joyful expression caught the sound in my throat ... This cry, I always feel it there. When, as I drew a crude portrait of my professor, I tried to rid myself of this cry, but in vain. When I painted the beef carcass it was still this cry that I wanted to liberate. I have still not succeeded."

Chaim Soutine Signature

Synopsis

Chaim Soutine is an Expressionist artist that lived and worked in Paris at the height of the modern era. Despite dominant trends toward abstraction, Soutine maintained a firm connection to recognizable subject matter. His innovation was in the way he chose to represent his subjects: with a thick impasto of paint covering the surface of the canvas, the palette, visible brushwork, and forms translated the artist's inner torment. As an expatriate Russian Jew living within Paris, with few friends beyond fellow artist Amedeo Modigliani, Soutine interpreted common themes with the eye of an outsider, further enhancing his unique perspective regarding his human subjects, landscapes, and still lifes and lending them a particular vanitas and poignancy. A prototypical wild artist, Soutine's temper and depression are both well documented and were poured into the paint he layered on the canvas. Soutine's body of work transcends the movements that dominated the avant-garde during his lifetime, expressing a clear personal and artistic vision that both looks back at historic themes as well as toward future modernist styles.

Key Ideas

Soutine looked to established masters like Rembrandt van Rijn and Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin for inspiration, often referencing subject matter from their paintings in his own work. However, although many of his paintings contain clear references to historic works, Soutine reinterpreted each theme, imbuing it with a drama and tension derived from his own complex emotions not present in the older work.
A preoccupation with food dominates Soutine's vivid still lifes, with the focus placed on the bodies of animals used for food. The artist's complex relationship to food, with its prominent place in Jewish ritual as well as its scarcity in his youth and early career, lends the common vanitas theme a deeper, more personal meaning.
Although labeled within art history as an Expressionist, Soutine's subjects and paintings are far from the typical urban angst commonly portrayed by German Expressionists. Instead, his unique mode of conveying his inner psyche through the manipulation of paint set a precedent that would reappear with the mid-twentieth century Abstract Expressionists.
Soutine's early experience of religious persecution had a large influence throughout his life, on both his personality and his art. His personal experience of discrimination provided the fuel for his expressive rendering of common objects and themes. He filtered his angst into his brushstrokes and, practicing painting as an act of devotion, he provided many later Jewish artists with an early twentieth-century role model.

Most Important Art

Chaim Soutine Famous Art

Carcass of Beef (1925)

Here, Soutine cunningly portrayed the beef split open, as if bearing its soul to the viewer. Soutine's repeated use of animal carcasses as the subject matter for still life paintings likely stems from his complex relationship with food and his adoration of the work of Rembrandt. During his repeated visits to the Louvre, Soutine pondered the old master's Slaughtered Ox, which bears a strong resemblance to Carcas of Beef(1655). Unlike Rembrandt, Soutine isolated the subject and employed an unusual method in the creation of this still life. After hanging the side of beef bought at a Parisian slaughterhouse in his studio, he had his assistant fetch a bucket of fresh cow's blood every few days and, while painting this work, Soutine would repeatedly pour blood over the carcass to ensure it maintained the bright color of freshly cut beef. Meanwhile, his assistant fanned away flies and neighbors complained to the police about the smell, even causing health inspectors to almost cart the beef away. Luckily his assistant intervened, as Soutine was far too engrossed in painting, and the artist was allowed to finish what is largely regarded as his masterpiece. The very visceral image of Soutine pouring blood over the carcass, as well as rapidly applying layer after layer of liquid paint to the canvas, recalls the later action painting of the mid-twentieth century. A direct link to this painting can be found in the work of Francis Bacon, which reflects the dark, emotional turmoil of Soutine as well as the use of anthropomorphized beef to reveal the artist's psyche.
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Chaim Soutine Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Chaim Soutine was born and raised in the small Jewish settlement of Smilavichy, near Minsk, in what is present-day Belarus. The tenth of 11 children, his father was a tailor and Soutine was raised under extremely modest means. His upbringing was fairly typical of Russian-born Jews during this era, who were forced to endure persecution and discrimination from a hostile government. Soutine's interest in drawing incurred opposition within his Orthodox family and the small community because of Talmudic proscriptions regarding images. According to an oft-recounted story, young Soutine was beaten in punishment after presenting a portrait to a rabbi. The suffering he experienced within the Jewish ghetto of his youth is believed to have worked its way into his later canvases.

At age 16, Soutine traveled to Minsk and, from 1910 to 1913, studied at the Vilna Academy of Fine Arts (in what is now the town of Vilnius), one of the few academies of its kind that accepted Jews. While enrolled, Soutine was exposed to artists from the Russian avant-garde as well as older Russian masters like renowned seascape painter Ivan Aivazovsky and landscape artist Fyodor Alekseev. Soutine excelled at drawing and painting during his early tutelage, yet instructors noted the young artist's penchant for tragedy and visually dark subject matter.

Early Training

Chaim Soutine Biography

Following his training at Vilna, at age 19, Soutine traveled to Paris with fellow students Pinchus Kremegne and Marcel Kikoine and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, working for two years in the studio of Fernand Cormon, a highly respected historical painter. He also began making frequent visits to the Louvre and conducted close studies of works by the likes of Francisco Goya, El Greco, Jacopo Tintoretto, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Gustave Courbet. The paintings of Rembrandt van Rijn, however, made a distinct impact on the young Soutine, who came to adore the master's portraiture, still lifes, and dramatic use of light. Later in life, Soutine reportedly made several trips by train to Amsterdam and slept on a park bench outside of the Rijksmuseum, just for the chance to spend more time with the museum's Rembrandt collection.

In 1915, while living in La Ruche - literally "The Beehive" - a rather shabby artist's residence in the southwestern outskirts of Paris, friend and fellow artist Jacques Lipchitz introduced Soutine to Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian-Jewish emigre, who had a great influence on Soutine's career. Soutine was quite shy, both with women and in general, and had an intense and temperamental manner that further complicated socializing and establishing a career. His newfound friendship with Modigliani, however, helped assuage these difficulties, as Soutine stated, "He gave me confidence in myself." A great admirer of Soutine's early portraits and still lifes of food, Modigliani soon introduced Soutine to his art dealer, Leopold Zborowski, who almost immediately offered to represent Soutine. Modigliani and Soutine's friendship was also commemorated by a series of portraits the artists made of one another in 1917.

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Chaim Soutine Biography Continues

Mature Period

Soutine chose to eschew the dominant early twentieth-century avant-garde trends of Cubism, Dada, and Futurism in favor of a more traditional approach, honing his skills as a portraitist and painter of still lifes. Food in particular was a constant obsession in his work, which likely stemmed from its central role in Jewish ritual. Early examples of this interest include Still Life with Tureen (1914-15) and Still Life with Herrings (1916), while a decade later more grisly examples followed like Flayed Rabbit (1924) and his series of beef carcasses. In his repeated use of beef, poultry, fish, and other animal carcasses as subject matter over the course of several decades, one can surmise that Soutine also held an obsessive interest in death.

As World War I drew to a close, Soutine returned to Paris with the financial support of Zborowski, following three years of living in the provinces. He began to create a great number of portraits of local townspeople and service laborers like cooks, maids, and boot polishers, most of whom he met randomly. While in Ceret in the French Pyrenees and in Cagnes during the early 1920s, Soutine devoted himself to the creation of dramatically expressionist landscapes and natural scenes of the French peasantry, infusing the typically Impressionist and Post-Impressionist subject matter with his darkly pseudo-abstract approach that reflected his continued angst and sorrow regardless of his surroudings.

The 1920s were Soutine's most productive years and, consequently, the most lucrative time of his career. In 1923, while Soutine's works were exhibited at the gallery of art dealer Paul Guillame, American collector Albert C. Barnes was quite taken with one of Soutine's portraits of a pastry cook. Guillame privately showed him more of Soutine's work, the bulk of which the collector promptly purchased. Dr. Barnes' patronage raised the price for all of Soutine's work and allowed him to live in financial stability for the rest of his career. His first dealer and patron, Zborowski, died in 1932, but Soutine received generous support from the wealthy French collectors Madeleine and Marcellin Castaing, who welcomed Soutine to stay at their summer home in Leves from 1930 to '35. During the 1930s, Soutine participated in a number of well-received exhibitions, including a solo show in Chicago and group exhibition entitled The Origins and Development of International Independent Art in Paris.

Late Period and Death

Chaim Soutine Portrait

On the eve of World War II, Soutine had been living with his companion and nurse-maid Gerda, a Jewish-German woman who fled to Paris in 1935. Gerda was forcibly removed to a camp for German nationals in 1940, as the Nazis neared France. At the loss of their stable relationship, Soutine was distraught. However, later that year Soutine became romantically involved with Max Ernst's former wife, Marie-Berthe Aurenche, who remained his muse and mistress until his death. With the Nazi invasion of Paris in the summer of 1940, Soutine was eventually forced to flee his apartment in Paris for fear of being captured by the Gestapo. The years that followed were Soutine's darkest, as he was forced from a safe house in Paris to villages in the Loire valley, moving from place to place with forged passports. The stress of living like a hunted man aggravated Soutine's ulcers. He was rushed to a hospital in Chinon due to anemia and pain, but his condition required an emergency surgery in Paris. The travel and operation took over 24 hours, and Soutine died of a perforated ulcer on August 9, 1943, at 50 years old.


Legacy

Despite being the lone Expressionist in Paris amidst the Cubists and Dadaists, Soutine secured a stable career for himself and paved the way for later avant-gardes. His work represents an important precursor to action painting and Abstract Expressionism, especially his animal carcass paintings, which he painted with great rapidity, and his landscapes, which reflect the all-over compositions and gestural brushwork adopted by later artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Recent exhibitions have demonstrated the direct influence Soutine's meat still lifes had on Francis Bacon, evidenced by the presence of sides of beef in several works by the British artist. Similarly, the thick impasto of Soutine's canvases and his dramatically simplified rendering of human subjects show a clear link to the Art Brut work of Jean Dubuffet.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Chaim Soutine
Interactive chart with Chaim Soutine's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

RembrandtRembrandt
Francisco GoyaFrancisco Goya
Gustave CourbetGustave Courbet
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Paul CézannePaul Cézanne

Friends

Jacques LipchitzJacques Lipchitz
Amedeo ModiglianiAmedeo Modigliani

Movements

RenaissanceRenaissance
RealismRealism
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
FauvismFauvism
ExpressionismExpressionism
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine
Years Worked: 1915 - 1940

Artists

Marc ChagallMarc Chagall
Jean DubuffetJean Dubuffet
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Francis BaconFrancis Bacon

Friends

Amedeo ModiglianiAmedeo Modigliani
Albert C. BarnesAlbert C. Barnes

Movements

CoBrA GroupCoBrA Group
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Useful Resources on Chaim Soutine

Books

Videos

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Chaim Soutine: An Expressionist in Paris Recomended resource

By Norman L. Kleeblatt, Kenneth E. Silver

Chaim Soutine, 1893-1943

By David Sylvester

artworks

Chaim Soutine (1893-1943): Catalogue Raisonne

By Maurice Tuchman, Esti Dunow, Klaus Perls, Ingo F. Walther

Chaim Soutine 1893-1943

By Chaim Soutine, Maurice Tuchman

More Interesting Books about Chaim Soutine

articles/reviews

'Lost Generation' Artist, Chaim Soutine's Major Works to Be Auctioned at Sotheby's

ArtEconomist.com
March 27, 2012

Two Meaty Visions of Flesh and Blood Recomended resource

Review of the connection between Soutine and Francis Bacon
By Karen Rosenberg
The New York Times
May 12, 2011

Record Paid for a Work by Soutine

By Christopher Knight
The Los Angeles Times
February 7, 2007

Soutine, That Painter of Death, Surrounded by a Crowd of His Lively Admirers Recomended resource

By Ken Johnson
The New York Times
August 11, 2006

More Interesting Resources about Chaim Soutine
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